Homage to Fokine, Royal Opera House, London

Zoë Anderson
Tuesday 02 August 2011 00:00 BST
Imperious: Ekaterina Kondaurova in 'The Firebird'
Imperious: Ekaterina Kondaurova in 'The Firebird'

In the early years of Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, Mikhail Fokine's ballets offered European audiences intoxicating visions, from grounded Russian folk tales to wild eastern dreams. In this celebration, the Mariinsky Ballet dance three of his most famous works.

They're at their best in Chopiniana, the ballet known in the west as Les Sylphides. Harking back to the Romantic ballets of the 1830s, Fokine shows a poet dancing with airy sylphs in a glade. Mariinsky sylphs have lighter hearts than their western counterparts. Orest Allegri's forest set suggests the end of a long summer evening; no dank midnight or Gothic abbeys here. There's a hint of sunshine in the light, brisk dancing.

Maria Shirinkina is elegant in the leading role, with a buoyant jump and clear-cut footwork. Alexander Parish – a British dancer who left the Royal Ballet for the Mariinsky in 2010 – makes an idealistic, slightly naïve hero, partnering her gently.

Ksenia Ostreikovskaya danced the "Prelude" solo, with its delicate "listening" gestures. Her hints of mime would be almost too sweet, but they're danced with a light spontaneity that warms the whole solo. Yana Selina is accurate but can be coy in the other soloist role. The corps de ballet are light and beautifully clear, with floating lines and crisp feet.

The Firebird is a fierce folk tale, with a brilliant ballerina role at its heart. At first, Ekaterina Kondaurova makes a fashion plate Firebird, her eyelashes black underneath and crimson on top. She dances with growing command and at her best when driving the villain's minions to dance. Every gesture is imperious and grand: of course they obey. Andri Emrakov is a confident Ivan Tsarevich, taking a world of monsters and enchanted princesses in his stride.

Where The Firebird has strong roots in Russian folk lore, Schéhérazade is an orientalist fantasy. It was a huge hit in 1910, driven by a charismatic cast and the raging colour of Bakst's designs.

The colours still pack a punch but the designs, like the choreography, have been blurred in this revival. Still, Diana Vishneva enjoys herself as the unfaithful queen Zobeide, all crimson lipstick and yearning limbs. Igor Zelensky lacks the explosive technique, and the sensuality, to be the Golden Slave she lusts after. The Mariinsky corps writhe with cheerful vigour.

The Mariinsky season runs to 13 August (020 7304 4000)

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